I just got off the phone with the David Gilliland, North Versailles Township Engineer, who confirmed that a company called Merrion has applied for and received a conditional use permit for a hydraulic fracturing (fracking) well in North Versailles at U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson mill. The conditional use hearing took place on October 25. Gilliland indicated that U.S. Steel would be buying all of the gas from the well, though I have not verified this with U.S. Steel.

The aforementioned information is all that was conveyed to me by Gilliland. The information below is my own assessment from recent conversations with other community members.

There is a small portion of the U.S. Steel Edgar Thomson mill that is in North Versailles Township, limiting the likely location of the well to this region:

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 10.20.39 AM
Likely target fracking site on Edgar Thomson mill site

As of 2015, the maximum distance possible for horizontal drilling in fracking wells is about 1 mile (according to LiveScience). It is my understanding that the maximum distance has increased since 2015, but I do not have a more current maximum distance. The City of Pittsburgh, which has banned fracking, is anchored on its eastern side by Frick Park, which is just over 4 miles from the likely well site.

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 10.23.42 AM
Distance of likely target fracking site to Frick Park in Pittsburgh, PA

I have a call into the DEP to determine whether they have received a permit application from Merrion, but have yet to hear their reply.

Some in N. Braddock are welcoming the money that is likely to come from the drilling. Others are concerned about the impacts of the well on the community.

[UPDATE: Dec. 8, 2017] The Valley Mirror paper, which serves the Mon Valley, recently published an article in their paper on Dec. 7, 2017, entitled, “Braddock Plant To Be Site Of Gas Well.” The opening sentence in that article appears as follows,

“U.S. Steel has entered into an agreement to lease a ten acre parcel on the eastern edge of the Edgar Thomson plant site to allow Merrion Oil and Gas, based in Farmington, New Mexico, to drill a gas well.”

The article features quotes from a Ryan Davis, a representative for Merrion Oil and Gas, and Mayor Louis Payne, Mayor of East Pittsburgh. The article also featured comments from Edith Abeyta, a member of North Braddock Residents for Our Future, who asks,

“What is the true impact going to be for me, someone who lives a few miles from a gas well?”

The Valley  Mirror article represents the first instance that I have been able to find of a printed news source reporting on this issue. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a digital version to link to.

[UPDATE: Dec. 9, 2017] Research on Merrion Oil and Gas uncovered this press release from the U.S. Dept. of the Interior Office of Natural Resource Revenue from March 29, 2012:

Interior’s ONRR issues $1.7 million civil penalty to Merrion Oil and Gas for late royalty payments

DENVER — The Department of the Interior’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) announced today it is assessing a $1.7 million civil penalty against Merrion Oil and Gas Corporation for knowing or willful failure to make timely royalty payments.

ONRR issued the civil penalty notice to Merrion for failure to make timely royalty payments on 18 Federal oil and gas leases located within the State of Colorado.

“Merrion made a practice over a period of seven years of submitting late royalty payments on the 18 leases and — for several months – simply failed to make the required royalty payments at all,” said Greg Gould, the Department of the Interior’s Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Natural Resources Revenue. “The company is extracting precious natural resources owned by the American public, and it is unacceptable for that company to not make timely royalty payments.”

Gould noted that Merrion was well aware it was submitting royalty payments after the dates they were due and that its practice could lead to ONRR civil penalties. In 2006 Merrion paid civil penalties for the very same type of violation on American Indian tribal leases.

A freedom of information act request revealed a document from the U.S. Department of Interior indicating that Merrion Oil and Gas Corporation paid a penalty of $189,939.81 during 2006 to the U.S. Dept. of Interior (case number CP04-022). Within that specific document, that penalty appears to be the largest penalty payment received by the Dept. of Interior in 2006.

(This story is currently developing. I’ll add more information here as I know more.)

This post was written by Mark Dixon.

Questions? Contact mark [at] lens [dot] blue

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